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If Eugene Melnyk was General Manager

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What is the boundary for cost savings in the NHL?

2017 Scotiabank NHL100 Classic - Centennial Fan Arena Photo Minas Panagiotakis/NHLI via Getty Images

With the (not so) recent departure of former Sens president and CEO Tom Anselmi, the team set off to look for next fit for the position.

Or so you would think.

See, the Ottawa Senators are a bit of an odd organization. And as it turns out, the answer was in front of them all along: Eugene Melnyk.

That’s right, instead of holding interviews and hiring someone to lead the team through some of the most important negotiations in franchise history, the infamous owner will be taking on the important duties that Anselmi left behind.

No, this is not a drill. Gary Bettman, if you’re reading this, please send help.

If Melnyk can take over as CEO, where will he stop?

Today I ask the important question: what if Eugene Melnyk became general manager?

The staple of the Melnyk regime has been his frugal spending, keeping the team on a tight internal budget, and cutting down hockey ops to the “bare bones”.

That will be my basis for this exercise: what is the extreme limit to which you can cut costs? What 20-man roster will cost the very least?

The NHL’s cap rules prevent teams from paying all their players league-minimum, by implementing a salary cap floor in addition to the maximum. The NHL’s current cap floor sits at $55.4 million, although it’s possible to go even lower than that in terms of real dollars being paid out.

The team’s cap hit is just a sum of each player’s cap hit, and each player’s cap hit doesn’t necessarily match how much that player is being paid in a given year.

Take Erik Karlsson for example, who’s currently nearing the end of a seven year contract with a cap hit of $6.5 million. The way his salary is structured, however, the amount of actual dollars he’ll be earning rises in each season. In 2012-13, the first year of the contract, Karlsson was paid only $4 million, even though his cap hit was still $6.5 million. His cap hit is the average over all years of his contract, meaning that there are many players around the NHL being paid more/less than their cap hit indicates.

The players making less are the exact type Melnyk would be targeting if he was general manager, trying to get as much cost savings as possible while toying with the salary cap floor. We’ll ignore future contract statuses for this exercise, as well as performance bonuses, because if a player gets too expensive, you trade him! That’s just the Melnyk way.

Anyways, no more waiting. Using salaries and cap hits from 2017-18, here’s the roster, with cap details below:

Zach Hyman - Radek Faksa - Josh Anderson
Ryan Dzingel - Calle Jarnkrok - Brendan Gallagher
Andre Burakovsky - Casey Cizikas - Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Marcus Foligno - Matt Stajan - Sam Gagner

Mattias Ekholm - John Klingberg
Oscar Klefbom - Damon Severson
Dan Hamhuis - Mark Pysyk

Carter Hutton
Joonas Korpisalo

Using data from CapFriendly.com, I found that this roster is the one that a) costs the least in actual dollars and b) manages to stay above the salary cap floor of $55.4 million. Just by salary structure alone, this team is able to spend more than $10 million underneath the cap floor — all the more money to go toward’s Melnyk’s pockets.

Let’s take a peek at the new-look Senators...

The Forwards

Pageau AND Gallagher? On the same team? Is that even possible?

An interesting observation from this exercise was how many of these contract types the Senators already have on the books. Pageau and Dzingel make the team combining for $800,000 in savings, although Derick Brassard has more cost savings than any other forward in the NHL, making $3.5M compared to his $5M cap hit. His cap hit was too high, however, bumping him off the team.

Having Radek Faksa may not be an ideal first line centre, but they’ve got some depth at wing, and heck, look at what Vegas is accomplishing this season. Gallagher provides the most immediate savings, although his salary rises over the next two season.

The Defencemen

This may be the saving grace of the team, as Ekholm, Klingberg, Klefbom and Severson make for a dangerous top four. Every single one is on a rising salary, but that’s what trades are for!

Like Brassard, they miss out on the biggest single-player savings due to a large cap hit, as Jason Garrison is making $2.5M this season with a cap hit of $4.6M.

The Goalies

Carter Hutton and Joonas Korpisalo make for a shaky duo, also combining for only $450,000 in savings. Building off the same point as the forwards, the Sens are already saving plenty of cash in this department, as Craig Anderson has the most savings amongst goalies (salary of $3.1M compared to a $4.2M cap hit). Condon also gives the team $700,000 in cap hit savings, making them by far the most Melnyk-friendly tandem in the league.

Conclusions

There aren’t really any conclusions to be made from this admittedly silly exercise, but as long as Melnyk is a part of this organization, the team will be stuck having to cut costs. This week’s Phaneuf trade was a prime example of that, as Gaborik’s declining salary saves the team nearly $5 million in player salaries.

Melnyk’s decision to put himself in the position as CEO is an odd one, as like the ice on the Rideau Canal, the Sens’ front office is getting thin. Although there’s basically no chance the franchise reaches the extreme proportions of the scenario above, it’s a hyperbolic version of what we’re already seeing.